Now close the windows and hush all the fields;
If the trees must, let them silently toss;
No bird is singing now, and if there is,
Be it my loss.
I remember, as a little girl, I liked to find poetry in words. I would come across a single word, or a phrase, and listen for the music and rhythm. Chattanooga Choo Choo, for example. I’d say the words over and over again, listening to the sounds which, the faster you said them, made you sound like a train.
I was fascinated how a single word would be so perfect that you couldn’t imagine any other in its place. Mr. Mistoffelees, for example. When I saw Cats at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, I thought that
T. S. Eliot was brilliant when he chose Mr. Mistoffelees as the name for the original conjuring cat: He can pick any card from a pack,/ He is equally cunning with dice;/ He is always deceiving you into believing/ that he’s only hunting for mice. Mr. Mistoffelees … really, how perfectly perfect.
One day I tried to explain to my boys how a single word can be poetic. To illustrate, I used the Italian word for blue, azzurro. Listen how the word just rolls off your tongue. Doesn’t it just sound like the color of an ocean wave lapping along the shore? To compare, I offered them the French word for the same color, bleu, which (to me) sounds like someone is gagging. To be clear, there is poetry in both words, but azzurro would be the color of the ocean along the Amalfi Coast, whereas bleu would be the color of the bubble gum stuck to the bottom of my shoe.
In college, I took a class on poetry. The textbook we used was The Norton Anthology of Poetry, and I lugged that thing with me everywhere for an entire semester. It was a challenging class, and I loved every minute of it. I can still hear the professor as he read to us, his voice soaring and plummeting and dancing to the poetry of the words. It was musical, it was magical.
Today I purchased a book of selected poems by Robert Frost.
And there has been poetry in my day.
It will be long ere the marshes resume,
It will be long ere the earliest bird:
So close the windows and not hear the wind,
But see all wind-stirred.